High-Opp (2012) is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert after The Dragon in the Sea (1955) but prior to Dune (1965). The novel was never published in his lifetime, although many elements of the story were used in the novel The Dosadi Experiment, sometimes word-for-word. It contains a forward by Kevin J. Anderson who co-authored many books in the Duniverse with Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert.

The novel is set on Earth following a period of warfare in the Twenty-first Century that resulted in a unified world government controlled by an ongoing series of polls registering the opinion of a sample of the population. Senior Liaitor Daniel Movius loses his government job and all the privileges associated with that position in one such poll and is demoted back to the Labor Pool, where he soon finds his very life is in danger. The negotiating skills that originally allowed Movius to work his way from the Labor Pool to the upper ranks without the benefit of nepotism serve him well as he becomes the natural leader of a revolution by the previously disorganized Seps, or Seperatists, fed by the discontent of the populace as they learn the Demopol has been manipulated.

  • To aid the poll-taking functions, a set of bureaus developed, such as the Bureau of Opinions (Bu-Opp), the Bureau of Control (Bu-Con), and the Bureau of Psychology (Bu-Psych). This idea blossomed as the Bureau of Sabotage (Bu-Sab) in Whipping Star
  • Public opinion was manipulated to make research into space flight forbidden by law, similar to the proscription against thinking machines in the Duniverse following the Butlerian Jihad. This has the effect of turning the population inward, where boredom is increased by the mandatory standardization of nearly everything, echoed by Leto’s Peace in God Emperor of Dune.
  • The Senior Liaitor job of Daniel Movius is eliminated by polling, in a scene almost precisely duplicated in The Dosadi Experiment, with the exception that Keila Jedrik manipulates a flaw in the Dosadi Demopol to eliminate her own job. Even the long serial number of the opinion in both novels are nearly the same. In both books, co-workers quickly learn what has happened and the protagonist thinks, Avert your faces, you clogs. In both books, the apartments of the elite are “fluting inverted stalagmites” built upon the “silvered layers of the Council Hills.” Quilliam Gar, a human in Broey’s inner council on Dosadi, shares the same first name with Quilliam London, a professor of semantics in Nathan O’Brien’s inner council in High-Opp, and both characters have a daughter who is also a major character.

But is the book any good? In a word, no. There’s a reason it wasn’t published when it was written, sometime between 1955 and 1965. The characters are one-dimensional, the unrealistic human interactions make a soap opera look like Shakespeare, and even the protagonist is unlike-able. He never truly suffers. The things that were taken away from him were things he never wanted anyway. By the time he decides to forego his revenge, events have moved beyond his control. The deep philosophical issues that make Herbert so interesting are completely absent in this book. The only redeeming feature is that it’s a peek at a proto-Dosadi before the concept of a people conditioned by a harsh environment (such as the Fremen) were read back into the story, allowing the fan of Herbert to see how the author’s ideas were shaped. For hard-core students of Herbert only.


Moby Dick meets Brideshead Revisited meets Silkwood meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Bladerunner meets Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome, then all Cloudatlasover again, in reverse order.  This 2004 novel is arranged like a set of nested Russian dolls, each interrupted halfway through to begin the next one, with only the sixth tale given in a single piece.  And each preceding tale is discovered somehow by characters in the next.  The journal of Adam Ewing is a book found by Robert Frobisher. Luisa Rey finds the letters of Frobisher to his lover which comprise the entire second section.  Cavendish reads a manuscript about Luisa Rey and considers publishing it. Sonmi watches a hundred year old film based on the things that happened to Cavendish. And Zachry worships Sonmi as a deity based on the actions she took during her “short and judased life”.

  1. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing – An American traveling in the South Pacific witnesses how man exploits and brutalizes man, but soon finds that he is not exempt by any means.
  2. Letters from Zedelghem – A destitute musical prodigy moves in with an ailing English composer and revitalizes both of their careers, but love raises its ugly head and ruins everything.
  3. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery – A reporter searches for an explosive report that could shut down a dangerous new type of nuclear reactor as dead bodies begin piling up around her, and Luisa’s body may be next.
  4. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish – A publisher on the run from organized crime signs into a hotel that turns out to be an escape-proof rest home from hell (or Hull as the case may be).
  5. An Orison of Sonmi-451 – A death cell interview with Sonmi-451, the clone Messiah of 22nd Century Korea, where corporatism has been carried out to its ultimate extreme.
  6. Sloosha’s Crossin’ An Ev’rythin’ After – Prescience Island, the last outpost of civilization on 24th Century Earth, sends Meronym to live with the Valleysmen of Ha-Why for a few months, but Zachry thinks she’s up to no good.

The film differs from the book in a number of ways.

In the film, a number of scenes are written involving Ewing, his wife, and her father in San Francisco which do not appear in Ewing’s journal, which according to the novel concludes with Ewing’s resolve to become an abolitionist in light of his friendship with Autua.

The character of Vyvyan Ayrs’ daughter, target of a deep obsession by Robert Frobisher, does not appear. Instead, Frobisher attempts to seduces Vyvyan himself, but is rejected.

In the Luisa Rey sequence, the nuclear power plant is being deliberately sabotaged to discredit nuclear power and leave fossil fuels as the only acceptable alternative. In the novel, the secret was the new process used by the reactor produced large amounts of weapons grade uranium.

In the Cavendish sequence of the film, Timothy ends up together with his brother’s wife.

In the Sonmi sequence of the film, the rebellion of the Unity movement is genuine, which differs from the novel in that Unity and most of the events that transpired were deliberately orchestrated by the Unanimity regime to maintain the attitude of the pureblood population against fabricants.

In the Sloosha’s Crossing sequence, the film diverges from the novel with the introduction of off-world colonies. The Prescients were attempting to leave the Earth because radiation is slowly killing them. In the novel, only five Prescients survive and establish a settlement on nearby Maui, where Zach’ry joins them.

In future posts I will write synopses of the six sections of this remarkable book.

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas (The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing)

The novel Cloud Atlas contains six tales arranged something like Russian dolls.  The first one, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”, is broken in half, and contains the next four,tumblr_mggsuqZ7Z11s360nmo1_500 also broken in half, until finally we arrive at “Sloosh’s Crossin’ an’ Everythin’ After” which is the only tale given in an unbroken form.  In this post I summarize the first tale as though it were unbroken.

  • In the 1850s, American Notary Adam Ewing, marooned for a week for ship repairs on Chatham Island (near New Zealand) after a typhoon, records in his journal that he witnessed a Moriori man (pacifists who are exploited by the Maori) being flogged by a Maori man (warriors who are exploited by the British). During the punishment, the victim, Autua, sees pity in the eyes of Adam Ewing (“Pain is strong, aye, but friends’ eyes, more strong”) and smiles.
  • Ewing’s only friend on the ship, Dr. Henry Goose, suggests it might be more merciful to hasten the savages’ extinction. “Think on your Red Indians, Adam. Think on the treaties you Americans abrogate & renege time & time & time again. More humane, surely more honest, just to knock the savages on the head & get it over with?”
  • Ewing ascends a high hill called Conical Tor, covered in jungle with no view. He stumbles on the lip of the crater, falls therein, and is knocked out. He awakes surrounded by hundreds of Moriori people. The trees are carved with sculptures. The people do not harm Ewing and he escapes, descending Conical Tor again, resolved not to mention the glyphs outside of his journal, for he did not wish to be the “agent of the Moriori’s final violation”.
  • As the ship gets underway again Dr. Goose examines the injuries Ewing sustained on the volcano and Ewing mentions his chronic Ailment. The doctor diagnoses it as a fatal parasite, and recommends a course of treatment that might save Ewing but it will certainly make him feel worse before he gets better. Ewing gratefully accepts.
  • Autua has stowed aboard the ship and hidden himself in Ewing’s cabin because he judged Ewing to be a compassionate soul. Ewing breaks the news to the Captain, who is ready to order his First Mate to shoot Autua, but Autua proves he’s a first class seaman, so the Captain puts him to work without salary to pay for his passage to Hawaii.
  • The ship visits the island of Raiatea, near Tahiti, where missionaries are busy getting the natives addicted to tobacco to give them an incentive to earn money and buy the leaf from the Mission trading post. Preacher Horrox describes a ladder of Civilization, with Anglo-Saxons on top, followed by the Latins, then the Asiatics, then the Negro, then the American Indian, then the Maori, with certain “Irredeemable Races” on the bottom, only one rung up from the great apes. The preacher predicts that humanity’s tribes will fulfill the destinies written in their racial traits, and for the lowest, the preacher suggests extinction will be the kindest prospect.
  • Near the equator, the cabin boy, named Rafael, asks Ewing if God lets a person into heaven if you’re sorry, no matter what one has done. Ewing dismisses the boy, commenting that he’s so young he could have hardly racked up a “mortal portfolio of sin”. The next day the boy hangs himself from the yardarm, and Ewing discovers he had been sodomized by half the crew every night for several weeks. The captain refuses to do anything about it. Ewing is wracked with guilt, thinking he gave the boy permission for self-slaughter.
  • Ewing has grown progressively sicker under Dr. Goose’s “cure”, which turns out to have been arsenic all along. He was never a doctor but only a con man. “‘Tis absurdly simple. I need money & in your trunk, I am told, is an entire estate, so I have killed you for it.” But Autua saves Adam’s life by forcing a bucket full of saltwater down his throat to flush out the poison.
  • The First Mate has conspired with Goose to rob Ewing. When Autua refuses to stand down, the first mate launches a brutal kick to Autua’s ribs and was about to launch another. Autua gently lowered Ewing’s head, at the same time capturing the First Mate’s foot, rising to his full height and launching Boorhhaave over the side of the ship like a “sack of cabbages”. Then Autua carried Ewing over his shoulder, down the gangplank and to the nuns of a Catholic mission in Honolulu, where for ten days Autua himself helped to minister Ewing back to health.
  • Ewing writes that history is not governed by rules, but outcomes. And outcomes are precipitated by vicious and virtuous acts. And those acts are precipitated by belief. If we believe in the Ladder of Civilization, that’s what we will get. But someday a purely predatory world will consume itself. Devil take the hindmost until the hindmost is the foremost. Selfishness in a species leads to extinction. He imagines his father’s response to becoming an Abolitionist, he would warn Adam that his life would amount to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops,” is Adam’s reply.

Letters from Zedelghem

Being the second of six nested tales in the novel, presented here in unified form:

  • Nearly penniless from gambling, In 1931 Robert Frobisher escapes from a hotelcloud-atlas-broadbent-whishaw without settling his bill and journeys to Brugges, Belgium to offer his services as an amanuensis to a famous but reclusive English composer named Vyvyan Ayrs who is dying of syphillis and nearly blind. Along the way he sleeps with the (male) ship’s steward. Frobisher has a comet-shaped birthmark on his shoulder blade. Frobisher’s story is told in a series of letters to his lover, a Cambridge physicist named Rufus Sixsmith.
  • Frobisher auditions and gains the grudging acceptance of Ayers for his services. Ayer’s wife Jocasta begins to subtly flirt. Ayers’ daughter Eva, however, smells a rat and takes a posture of unrelenting hostility. Soon, however, Robert and Ayers bear fruit with the creation of Der Todtenvogel (“The Death Bird”) which is soon performed nightly in Krakow, where it becomes the talk of the town. Frobisher says he even has begun composing his own music again.
  • Frobisher and Jocasta Ayers have become lovers, but Eva remains suspicious. Frobisher begins taking rare books from Ayer’s collection and selling them to a fence. One of the books he has found is titled The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing but it is ripped in half and it drives him crazy, because, as he says, “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”
  • One time when Jocasta and Frobisher are sleeping together, Ayers pounds on his door and demands Frobisher writes down the notes he heard in a dream. Jocasta hides in a lump under the covers, and Ayers, nearly blind, never sees her there. The dream was about a “nightmarish cafe” deep underground where the waitresses all had the same face and ate soap. When he is done humming his tune, he asks if Jocasta ever made advances to Frobisher, who answers, after some embarrassment, “emphatically, no.”
  • As the summer comes to an end, Jocasta thanks Robert for “giving Vyvyan his music back.” Robert agrees to stay on until next summer at least, as Ayers asked, time enough to turn his dream music into a major symphony called Eternal Recurrance.
  • Robert Frobisher and Morty Dhondt speak about man’s propensity for violence, and how war is man’s constant companion. But Robert points out that science devises ever bloodier means of war until the same faculties that elevated man from apes must drive civilization to destruction.
  • Robert works on the Cloud Atlas sextet, which mirrors the structure of the Cloud Atlas novel. Each solo is interrupted by its successor, then in the second half, each interruption is continued, in reverse order, and it’s last thing he thinks of when he sleeps, and the first thing he thinks of when he wakes, even with Jocasta in his bed, but Robert figures she should understand an artist lives in two worlds.
  • Robert and Vyvyan Ayers have a spat, because Robert has discerned his own work in Ayer’s proposed compositions. Robert walked out, complaining of agony in his toe. Ayers warns, “If your toe isn’t better by the morning, Frobisher, get it fixed in London and don’t come back.” A very different man from the one who pleaded with Robert to stay on until next year. Later, Jocasta convinces him to stay.
  • If Ayers is different, so is Eva, and Robert sees her in a new light that develops from a slight crush to a full obsession. Jocasta senses the newfound peace between the two and doesn’t like it one bit. From this point on, Robert’s life takes a sharp turn downhill, and Jocasta is the root cause, moving behind the scenes.
  • Ayers and Frobisher have another artistic spat, but this time Ayers lets on that he knows all about his affair with his wife. Robert counterpunches with a remark that his campaign to smear his name would be undermined when society learned what kind of woman Jocasta was in her private life. Ayers says, “You ignorant ass, Frobisher. Jocasta’s numerous affairs are discreet, always have been. Any society’s upper crust is riddled with immorality, how else d’you think they keep their power?” He tells Frobisher to come back next day with his homework done, and they’ll forget his tantrum ever happened.
  • Robert goes out to think. He is caught in a dilemma. He can’t stand to let Ayers plunder his talents, yet he can’t stand to go one day without seeing Eva. He returns to the chateau, resists the urge to kill Ayers, but steals the old man’s pistol. He leaves a note to Eva that says only, “Empress of Bruges, your belvedere, your hour.” Every day after that Robert climbed to the Belfry hoping Eva would be there. Later, in a drizzle, in a crowd, he brushes Eva’s cape, but she doesn’t notice.
  • Eva introduces to Robert her fiance Gregoire . That she had a fiance was a shock to him, she never was his impassioned love. Gregoire marched him to the door, saying, “Go home to England.” Robert embraced Gregoire with a grip that ensured they would both fall down the icy steps, getting bruised in the process. Robert kicked Gregoire twice, saying “Love hurts!” and then hobbled off on a twisted ankle.
  • Frobisher announces that he has shot himself to death that morning. He mentions seeing Sixsmith in the city looking for him and is touched. A copy of his manuscript for the Cloud Atlas Sextet has been forwarded to Sixsmith. Along with this final letter, Frobisher has enclosed the mutilated second half of the book he had been obsessed with, which all along had been used by a prior guest to prop up the bedpost and keep the bed from wobbling.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery

A synopsis of the third of six stories contained within the novel Cloud Atlas, each one very different from the other, yet connected in a mysterious way…

  • In 1975, Rufus Sixsmith meets magazine reporter Luisa Rey in an elevator and listenscloud-atlas-halle-berry-keith-david to her life story while they are stuck between floors during a power brownout. Her late father was one of the few incorruptible policemen on the force. Luisa says she was willing to lay her life on the line for her journalistic integrity because to do otherwise would be a mockery of her father’s life. Sixsmith realizes he can trust Luisa. Later, after the elevator power is restored, Sixsmith expresses to Luisa, by telephone, his concern that the Seaboard HYDRA nuclear power plant isn’t as safe as they advertise it to be.
  • When Luisa investigates Seaboard, she meets Isaac Sachs, who helped Sixsmith develop a report that has been squashed by the company. The PR lady, Fay Li, doesn’t like Luisa snooping around. Meanwhile Sixsmith, hiding in a hotel room, learns from an unknown caller that his phone call to Luisa was traced. He has less than twenty minutes to get away with his report. He mails it to Luisa, but he cannot book a flight to leave the country for another day. He is put up in the Hotel Bon Voyage for the night.
  • In the hotel restaurant, Sixsmith reads the letters written to him from Robert Frobisher more than fifty years prior. He knows them by heart, but they are still what he would rush into a burning building to save. The last letters mention that Sixsmith himself searched Bruges for his unstable friend (and first love).
  • Bill Smoke has let himself into Sixsmith’s room, where he hides in the bathroom with the door cracked. He justifies what he’s about to do by thinking if it wasn’t him, it would be the next fixer in the Yellow Pages. When Sixsmith returns to the room and flops on the bed, Bill Smoke takes three steps out and fires a bullet into his temple, thinking that no drug, no religious experience touches one like turning a man into a corpse.
  • Luisa learns on the news that Sixsmith had “taken his own life” and the coroner confirmed no suspicious circumstances, despite having bought a plane ticket and making a typewritten “suicide” note. Luisa had talked to Sixsmith in a trapped elevator for ninety minutes and concluded he was not an unstable man. Megan poses as Sixsmith’s neice to see the hotel room. The manager gives her the Frobisher correspondence, and Luisa is soon captivated by the story they tell.
  • The Lost Chord Music Store receives a call from Luisa to track down a recording of Robert Frobisher’s Cloud Atlas Sextex, which had only five hundred pressings. Luisa then interviews a group of protesters camped near the reactor, where she meets Hester Van Zandt, and learns about one of the protesters named Margo Roker, who owns the island next to the reactor where the protestors are camped. Recently she was beaten into a coma. Hester asks Luisa to find the Sixsmith report. If it was made public it would immediately take HYDRA off line and destroy the Seaboard corporation.
  • Luisa speaks to Isaac Sachs, talks about her VW beetle, which was previously owned by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. She mentions the trunk doesn’t lock, among other shortcomings. Luisa gets Isaac to confirm that he knows what’s in the Sixsmith report, and confirms that there is a danger. He asks what she would do if she obtained a copy, and she says she would go public. Isaac warns her that some people in the upper echelons would rather see him dead than HYDRA discredited. Luisa tells him to “do whatever you can’t not do.”
  • Joe Napier, a policeman and friend of Luisa’s father, accompanies her as she interviews a Seaboard technician, who calls the reactor the “Home of the Brave”. He is astonished that the little girl he knew long ago chose her profession as a reporter, and caught on the scent of Sixsmith’s death. “Who dreamed up this sick joke?” he muses to himself. “The city?” It later turns out that Napier is bugging Luisa’s phone and working with Bill Smoke.
  • Fay Li ransacks Luisa’s hotel room looking for the report. Isaac Sachs has been fired from Seaboard. He calls from Philadelphia, says, “Garcia has a present to give to you.” Luisa realizes the phone line is tapped, and Isaac is saying he left a copy of the report in the unlocked trunk of her VW. Bill Smoke and Joe Napier, listening to the tape can’t figure out who “Garcia” is.
  • Luisa finds the report. Napier catches up with Luisa and tries to get her to stop, but she speeds away. Bill Smoke talks to the guard on the bridge at the island where the reactor lies, and countermands Napier’s order to stop an orange VW bug. The guard will raise the barrier for Luisa and let Bill Smoke follow. When Napier gets there, the guard is to tell him the boss says, “Go back to bed.” Bill Smoke reinforces these orders with veiled threats against the guard’s family.
  • On the bridge, Bill Smoke overtakes Luisa and runs her off the railing into the water. He laments that this homicide had to be anonymous, not face to face. They lack the thrill of human contact.
  • Luisa survives the crash into the ocean but the Sixsmith Report is scattered. Isaac Sachs, on a plane flying over Pennsylvania, writes his theory of the actual and virtual past and future as a set of nested Russian matryoshka dolls, just like the structure of the novel Cloud Atlas. He also writes that he has fallen in love with Luisa Rey. Just then a suitcase filled with C-4 explodes, destroying the plane and killing everyone aboard.
  • Luisa recovers in the trailer of Hester Van Zandt after swimming three hundred yards to shore. Her friend Milton offers to drive her to town. Hester says she’d trust Milton with her life. Milton calls Joe Napier and offers to deliver her to him for the usual fee.
  • Joe Napier has been forced into early retirement from the force. He meets Luisa, the daughter of his old partner, and he convinces her he wasn’t the one who tried to kill her. He gets her to sit down long enough to tell the story of what happened the day her father died. He begs Luisa to give up looking for the report because it will get her killed.
  • Bill Smoke sees Luisa alive and well at a party in her mother’s home and lusts to commit a killing of perfect intimacy. Luisa has no idea what he looks like, and he gives his name as Herman Howitt. The television announces the plane accident, which shocks Luisa. Bill Smoke asks, “Did you know any of those poor souls, Miss Rey?”
  • Luisa’s magazine, Spyglass, is sold to a mystery buyer, who promptly fires Luisa. At the Lost Chord Music Store she takes possession of her copy of a recording of the Cloud Atlas Sextet. The owner has been playing it because he was curious. The record is in mint condition, but there are probably not more than a handful in North America. Luisa says, “I’m telling you, I know it.”
  • Napier leaves his old life behind and heads into retirement, but guilt won’t let him be. He remembers the time when he and Bill Smoke ransacked Margo Roker’s place and when she surprised them Bill Smoke had to strike her with a flashlight to the head. The picture of his dead wife wins the argument, as usual, by saying nothing. He loads his Jeep again and returns to help Luisa.
  • Luisa admits to her mother she’s working on a big story. Judith says she tried to dress her baby daughter in frilly dresses, enrolled her in ballet classes, and sent her to horse-riding camp five summers in a row. But Luisa grew up to be her father anyway.
  • Luisa’s editor at her magazine helps her clean out her stuff. He gives her a package he intercepted for her from the mailroom, it’s the one Rufus Sixsmith mailed from the UK. Inside is a safety deposit box key and a note from Sixsmith that gives the address of the bank where he has stashed a copy of the report.
  • At the bank, Fay Li from Seaboard and two associates take the key from Luisa. Luisa is taken away to be killed. When Fay Li opens the safety deposit box, the report is there, but so is a bomb rigged by Bill Smoke. Luisa survives the blast but has a mild concussion. Bill Smoke tries to stuff her into his car, but Joe Napier scoops her up and away on foot through heavy traffic.
  • Joe Napier and Luisa Rey team up to get the report, because it is the only way out of their mess. But first they have to evade Bill Smoke and his two sidemen. They take refuge in a sweatshop with five hundred sewing machines going, where a kind Mexican woman helps them escape with a monkey wrench upside one of Bill Smoke’s men’s head.
  • Luisa meets Megan Sixsmith, and Megan asks her what her favorite Hitchcock movie is to make sure it’s really her, based on idle chat she made with her uncle when they were stuck in the elevator, which Rufus wrote about in a card to his neice. Megan vetted her uncle’s work. She says a by-product of the HYDRA reactor is weapon’s great uranium, lots of it. Luisa says the report, and only the report, will bring Seaboard crashing down. Megan quietly murmers that her uncle kept many of his papers on Starfish, his yacht, and that Sixsmith had a thing about never mentioning the boat at work.
  • Napier and Luisa drive to a marina, and climb aboard a boat named the Starfish. Luisa shows Napier the report. He’s relieved. “…about time something went well, so simply.” From the cabin doorway, Bill Smoke blocks the starlight as he guns Napier down.
  • Bill Smoke tells Luisa to put the report on the table, he doesn’t want to get blood on it. Luisa says, “You followed us from the bank, in the subway, to the art museum…” Bill Smoke replies, “Does death always make you so verbose?” And Luisa is frightened by that remark. She asks, “What do you mean ‘always’ ?”
  • Time slows to a crawl as Joe Napier, in the last moments of his life, makes a Heroic Effort and shoots Bill Smoke. At that precise moment, Hester Van Zandt is reading to her comotose friend Margo Roker. She reads some poetry from Emerson, finishing with “…the strong gods pine for my abode/And pine in vain – ” and Margo comes out of her coma.
  • The CEO of Seaboard flees the country, forfeiting his quarter million dollar bail. This is widely seen as an admission of guilt. President Ford condemns his former advisor and distances himself from the Nixon appointee. The reactors are mothballed and swarm with FBI, police, and reporters. Sixsmith’s niece Megan sends Luisa, by airmail, the final eight letters of Robert Frobisher. Luisa slices the package open and begins to read…

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish

The six stories contained in the novel Cloud Atlas span centuries.  This segment is the only one set in the present day.

  • In the 2010s, publisher Timothy Cavendish is promoting a mobster’s “fictional” tell-all book, Knuckle Sandwich, which has received a scathing review from one Felix Jim-Broadbent-in-Cloud-AtlasFinch. The author, Dermot “Duster” Hoggins, tosses Felix Finch over a balcony twelve stories to his death. Dermot gets sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Cavendish moves 90,000 hardcover copies of Knuckle Sandwich in the first four months.
  • The ne’er-do-well brothers of Hoggins show up and demand fifty thousand pounds “for starters” from Cavendish who was doing so well from sales of Knuckle Sandwich and they aren’t in the mood to listen to the terms of the contract. “Will the law help a man of your years bounce back from multiple spinal fractures?”
  • Finances at the publishing house aren’t as great as the Irish gang thinks it is. Cavendish tries to ask his brother for a loan (he needs it by that afternoon) but his brother suggests he goes to ground and suggests a place that owes him a favor or two. When Cavendish rides a train out of London he reads half of a manuscript titled Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery and muses it is too clever by half, already broken into neat little chapterettes ready to be turned into a movie script.
  • At Cambridge, Cavendish looks at the science parks where “Biotech Space Age cuboids now sit cloning humans for shady Koreans”. Eventually he arrives at his destination, far in the north. “WELCOME TO HULL.” The place is called Aurora House, and he thinks it’s a hotel. A woman named Florence tells him to sign in, and then she shows him to his room.
  • The next morning, he wakes to find a woman rummaging through his gear. “What the bloody hell are you doing in my room, you pilfering warty sow?” She replies that since he is new she will not have him eating soap powder, this time, but be warned. She will not stand for offensive language in Aurora House. When he lips off again, she slaps him.
  • It turns out Aurora House is a nursing home, and Cavendish suspects his brother is having a big laugh. He demands his keys back, but this is denied. When he signed in the night before, he signed over all his rights and authorized Aurora House to “apply compliancy”. He tries to escape and sees other inmates in the yard. He yells, “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” A giant groundsman catches him and gives him a caning on his bare bottom, then he is sent to his room without breakfast.
  • Cavendish is calmed down by a visit from the “Residents’ Committee” who had intended to introduce themselves before the morning’s unpleasantness. Lunch was a “tepid lamb chop”. The potatoes were “starch grenades”. The canned carrots were revolting. He realizes he can’t win by shouting his way out, he needs to resort to subterfuge. And just then, he suffers a stroke.
  • Cavendish survives the stroke. As he recovers, he mumbles the name Margo Roker from the Luisa Rey manuscript. He took a month to recover, but never left Aurora House. He spent the time going over the manuscript, and knew the first thing that would need to go was the insinuation that Luisa Rey is this Robert Frobisher chap reincarnated. He is frustrated when he runs out of pages halfway through the novel.
  • While searching the grounds for a way out Cavendish meets a small group of residents who spend their time in the boiler room. Mr. Meeks doesn’t say very much. Ernie Blacksmith keeps the boiler running for free, and in return the management turns a blind eye to the occasional bottle of liquor being smuggled in. Ernie says 3/4 of prison escapes fall flat because all the thought goes into the escape, and none on the logistics afterward. What about a vehicle? Money? Boltholes? Ernie mentions when the arrogant son of Mrs. Hotchkiss leaves his keys in the ignition every time he visits trying to get his mother to reveal the location of all the family jewels, which she buried when she got wind he was about to stick her in Aurora House. Apparently he thinks the residents are so decrepit and harmless he doesn’t have to be careful.
  • In the middle of the night Timothy Cavendish makes a clandestine phone call, trying to reach his brother. It turns out he has died. He manages to blurt out to his brother’s wife where he is and begs her to get him out, but Withers, the giant groundskeeper, cuts the phone call short. In the morning, Nurse Noakes gets the other residents to chant, “Shame on you!” but Cavendish says Saint Peter told him his brother was dead, and he was using the phone to make funeral arrangements. “I told him that using the telephone was against Aurora House rules, but Saint Peter assured me that Nurse Noakes was a God-fearing Catholic who wouldn’t mock such an explanation.” She needs to have prayer time to confirm, but in the meantime Cavendish is on probation.
  • The dissidents in the boiler room plan to escape in two days. The plan is a “high-risk sequences of dominoes”. The first domino is to get Johns Hotchkiss there with his vehicle. They do that with a stolen mobile phone, pose as a doctor, and say Mrs. Hotchkiss is close to death and keeps talking about jewelry. “I must tell Johns,” she keeps saying, over and over. At least that’s the story they tell Johns.
  • Domino two has Ernie telling Nurse Noakes that Cavendish is dead. Domino three, Nurse Noakes falls for the old pillows-propped-up-under-the-blankets trick. Cavendish gets her locked in his own room. Domino four has Veronica (one of the dissidents) sending Johns Hotchkiss on a wild goose chase looking for his mother.
  • The dissidents get into Hotchkiss’ big Range Rover and ram the gates. They are free of Aurora House, and are surprised that old Mr. Meeks, who hardly ever says a word, somehow found a way to join them. They stop for gas and hit a Scottish pub to celebrate.
  • Withers and John Hotchkiss track the escapees to the pub and call in a third. The jig was up. But Mr. Meeks leaps onto the bar and bellows, “Are there nor truuuue Scortsmen in the hooooose? Those there English gerrrrunts are trampling o’er ma God-gi’en raaaights! Theeve used me an ma pals morst direly and’ we’re inneed of a wee assistance!” The arrogance of Johns Hotchkiss ensures a rowdy bar fight follows. The escapees left the pub via the back.
  • While he was away, the Hoggins brothers ransacked the office, but Cavendish’s secretary Mrs. Latham captured the vandalism on a video camera. She told them to steer clear of Cavendish, or the footage will end up on the Internet, causing their probations to become prison sentences. The were forced to accept a cut on future royalties on Knuckle Sandwich, the Movie.
  • Cavendish has his secretary send an email to the author expressing his interest in publishing the manuscript for the first Luisa Rey mystery whose first half he has already read, and a few days later the postman delivers it.


In this fifth of six interlinked tales in the novel Cloud Atlas, the timeline jumps ahead about a century from now and presents a dystopic united Korea where consumerism is taken to its ultimate extreme…

  • In the 22nd Century Somni-451 is sentenced to die but submits to a final interview, which is recorded by a holographic camera called an orison. Sonmi-451 was a fabricant who served fast food in an underground diner. The only thing that makes her different CloudAtlas3from her sisters is a comet birthmark on her shoulder blade. Fabricants work for nineteen hours a day. They are allowed to sleep for only 4.5 hours. Their food is called Soap and contains amnesia agents to deaden curiosity. Every year they receive a new star pin on their collar. The Twelvestarred are said to be conveyed by Papa Song’s Ark to Hawaii where they receive Souls (chips) and are converted into consumers.
  • Yoona-939 deviated from the Catechism and instead of being destarred was examined by a medic for possible reorientation. Yoona-939 attempted to explain the concept of the word “secret” to Sonmi-451, information that no one else, not even Papa Song knows. A customer had left a flashlight on a seat, but instead of giving it to her aide, Yoona had hidden it away. She had questions. How could Papa Song stand in Chongmyo Plaza and stroll with her sisters on Xultation’s beaches simultaneously? Why were fabricants born in debt but purebloods not? Who decided it took twelve years to repay Papa Song’s investment? Sonmi is afraid she will be destarred for failing to judas Yoona to Seer Rhee.
  • On New Years Eve Yoona “borrows” a child to escape in an elevator because the elevator only works for ones with Souls. The child’s mother screams, “A clone’s taken my boy!” The diner broke out in panic, fueled by an enforcer who fired a sonicshot. The elevator returned. When the door opened, the little boy was balled into one corner. Yoona’s body was turned into a pulp of bullet holes, and the memory remained no matter how much Soap Sonmi injested because like Yooni her own ascension had begun. Sonmi was the next guinea pig.
  • Sonmi began to eavesdrop every conversation she could, and drink information. She envied her uncritical, unthinking sisters. Seer Rhee is found dead of suicide, having injested a quarter-liter sac of Soap. He is discovered by Sonmi, who had awakened during curfew, which none of her sisters ever did. At yellow-up no stimulant is pumped in, so only Sonmi gets out of her cot. No aide reported for work. A man named Chang was there to offer a choice. She could leave the diner now, or wait for Unanimity to come, investigate the death of Seer Rhee, and expose her as a Union spy. She chooses to leave.
  • Sonmi is taken above the ground for the first time in her life. She had never known cold. She is taken to a mirrored ford and whisked across a city whose sights overwhelm her. They travel to the University at Mount Taemosan, which is her “new home”. Compared to her diner, everything looks dirty especially the lab of Boom-Sook Kim, where she finds a cot.
  • The next morning she meets another fabricant, Wing-027, who is a disasterman bred to operate in the infected or radioactive deadlands. He tells her, “The day when all Nea So Copros is deadlanded will be the day fabricants become the new purebloods.” He gives her a sony and tells her she must learn to read, but to never allow a pureblood to catch her gathering knowledge, because it frightens them.
  • Boom-Sook Kim is supposed to be a post-graduate doing experiments on Sonmi, but he “could not have identified the biomolecular properties of toothpaste”. His interests were drinking, gambling, and his crossbow. His professors did not rock the boat because his father was lobbying to be on the ruling Juche. Fresh data would cloud the ascension formulation he had bought and expose him as a fraud. So Sonmi had fifty glorious days to study. But one day she learned Wing-027 was burnt to death by the carelessness of a pureblood and was furious. She said, “That day was the first step to my Declarations, to this prison cube, and to the Litehouse in a few hours.”
  • One night Boom-Sook Kim and his friends get drunk and use Sonmi for target practice with their crossbow, despite the “hell” of doing paperwork on a dead specimen. Boom-Sook misses the plum on her head and pins her ear to the wall with a bolt. Unanimity Professor, architect of the Merican Boat People Solution and Juche Boardman Aloi Mephi enters, thunderously angry. Somni is treated for her injury and moved to new quarters. Boom-Sook’s doctorate is terminated.
  • The professor apologized to Sonmi for failing to recognize the extent of her ascension. He assumed she was yet another semi-ascended experiment, doomed to mental disintegration in a week or two. But her reading habits had been logged, and were eclectic enough to have flagged his attention, especially her download of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. He could not imagine that Boom-Sook would read such things, so he had a camera planted in the room and learned the truth. Billions had been spent, previously without success, to achieve what Sonmi was, a stable ascended fabricant. She was to be studied, but in turn she was be allowed to study.
  • Sonmi suffers from blatant racism when she tries to attend university lectures. But a post-grad named Hae-Joo befriends her. He takes her downtown on a “date” where she visits the very diner of her origins. Kyelim-889, who was Yoona’s replacement, doesn’t remember her, and answers all of Sonmi’s questions straight from her Catechism. Sonmi realized her sisters were just slaves there for twelve years. And at Mount Taemosan, she knew she was just a more privileged slave.
  • Somni describes watching a pre-Skirmishes film called The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish and being utterly captivated by how it immersed her in a far earlier time. She forgot herself, utterly. But at precisely the point where the protagonist suffered some sort of seizure, a student interrupts her and Hae-Joo, tells them Professor Mephi has been arrested, and forty or fifty enforcers where looking for them with orders to interrogate Hae-Joo and kill Sonmi on sight. Hae-Joo exudes a sudden grim authority and reveals to Sonmi, while the image of Timothy Cavendish is projected upon him, that he is not who he said he was.
  • Hae-Joo is part of the rebellion, or Union movement. He tells Sonmi she could follow him, or stay and be dead in a matter of minutes. She chooses to follow. During the escape, a dumdum strikes a student in the vehicle who is helping them to escape, which is a dart with a poison that causes unendurable agony (so his screams give their position away) coupled with a stimulant to prevent him from losing consciousness. Hae-Joo mercifully kills him with a bullet to the head. And he asks Somni to do the same thing if he ever gets hit with a dumdum.
  • In the underbelly of the capital city is a slum where conditions are atrocious, populated by migrants escaping from factories where conditions are even more atrocious. Hae-Joo and Sonmi make contact with their cell leader in a whore house. New fake Souls (identity chips) are implanted in their fingertips so they don’t alert Unanimity every time they pass under a traffic light. And Sonmi is given a new face.
  • In the city, cars were being stopped randomly for questioning. Each driver puts his finger on the Eye to have their Soul scanned. When Hae-Joo does so, the gate slams down, and they have to get out of the car. The scanner didn’t like how his finger had been injured. Hae-Joo said he cut it when he was slicing up avocados. The guard orders Sonmi to unhood herself, but he doesn’t recognize her as a Sonmi. He lets them go.
  • Sonmi and Hae-Joo reach a Buddhist abbey which had been staffed by nuns for fifteen centuries. A small colony of dissidents lived there, apart from the corpocracy, growing their own food and scavenging for other materials. Sonmi befriends the Abbess, who feared that one day the “tapeworms” (as the colonists were considered by the power that be) would be rebranded “terrorists” and the abbey firebombed. But she said the enslavement of Sonmi’s tribe was the worst crime of the corpocracy.
  • Sonmi and Hae-Joo resume their travels, using back roads to avoid detection. In Nea So Copros toy dolls are living fabricants, and when their owners tire of them, registered xpirers charge three thousand dollars to dispose of them. Sonmi witnesses one owner throwing a terrified little doll from a bridge to her death, and grows as angry as the time when Wing-027 was murdered.
  • At Pusan, Sonmi and Hae-Joo board one of Papa Song’s Golden Arks under false identities, ostensibly for a night of pleasure. Security is minimal. They move through hidden areas of the ship and Sonmi discovers the Golden Arks are really floating slaughterhouses for fabricants. They never take the twelvestarred across the ocean to Xultation, they simply sail from port to port in Nea So Copros.
  • The genomics industry requires large amounts of liquid biomatter for wombtanks and Soap, and the cheapest way is to recycle fabricants. Some of this biomatter is eaten by consumers in Papa Song dineries. Somni realizes that Xultation was a lie, manufactured on a sony, that did not exist in Hawaii or anywhere. When the Archivist expresses disbelief, she asks him if he or anyone he knows has ever seen a fabricant after retirement. There should be cities full of them by now. Where are these cities?
  • Sonmi says the ship must be destroyed, the shipyards that built them dismantled, the laws that permitted it to happen reconstructed. Every consumer must understand that fabricants are purebloods, be they grown in a wombtank or a womb. She says fabricants need a catechism to define their ideals and channel their energies, and she is the one to compose it. Hae-Joo says Union will scatter her writings far and wide. The day she finishes writing her Declarations Unanimity moved in and arrested Sonmi with a dramatic show for the media that was quite unnecessary, because she refused to resist.
  • Sonmi suggests her entire confession was based on events scripted by Unanimity because it provides Nea So Copros with the enemy required by any hierarchical state for social cohesion. The Archivist asks why Sonmi is cooperating with the conspiracy if she already knew the truth. “Why does any martyr cooperate with his judases?” she replies. Sonmi-451 is playing the long game. Her Declarations have flooded society, her ideas have been reproduced a billionfold. “No matter how many of us you kill, you will never kill your successor.” Sonmi’s final request is to finish a film she once began long ago, titled The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish…


The novel Cloud Atlas is constructed like a series of nested Russian dolls, and this tale, the sixth and final one, is set farthest in the future (about 2340 CE) and is the littlest doll in the cloud-atlas-tom-hanks-halle-berrycenter, the only tale presented complete and entire without being interrupted halfway through:

  • When boys in the Valleys reach the age of manhood, they spend the night in the Icon’ry, where they receive visions from Sonmi. Zachry Bailey received three augurs that would affect the course of his life. 1) Hands are burning, let that rope not be cut. 2) Enemy’s sleeping, let his throat be not slit. 3) Bronze is burnin’, let that bridge not be crossed.
  • Twice a year the Ship of the Prescients makes a port call to the Nine Valleys on Big Island in 24th Century Hawaii where they barter ironware and other items for fruits, veggies, and water. One time the Prescients wanted to have a Shipwoman named Meronym stay with the Valleysmen for six months, and asked who would be willing to host her. Neither Ma Bailey nor Zachry Bailey were present to “coldwater the plan” so they ended up with the honor.
  • The Prescient woman, Meronym, moves in with the Baileys but she’s no slacker when it comes to chores. Still, Zachry doesn’t take a liking to her, because he thinks she’s a spy. Still, she finagled permission to come with Zachry as he herded his goats up Elepaio Track. Meronym meets Napes of Inouye, who tells her about his great-grandfather Truman Napes.
  • Truman Napes got it into his head to climb Mauna Kea one time. The hike took three solid days, and when he arrived at the summit, where there was not a speck of green. There he found an ironstone wall higher than redwoods which circled the whole peak for miles. When he circled around, looking for a break, he met an old man who agreed to divvy up any gear they found, fifty-fifty. The old man showed him the way in, then sank to his knees. Truman saw his partner was a long-dead corpse. Then Old Georgie (the devil) dug out the old man’s soul. “Valley souls are pure’n’strong, an’ melt like honey on my tongue,” the devil said/ Fifty-fifty your deal. D’you want your half now, or when you’re dead, Truman Napes Third o’ Mormon Valley?” And Truman ran back down that mountain like his life depended on it, his black hair turned instantly to white.
  • One time Zachry went digging in Meronym’s gear when she was away on chores, and found the orison of Sonmi-451, with a hologram of the girl who is now worshiped as a goddess on Hawaii. But a companion of Meronym cut in and scared the crap out of Zachry, and made him promise to put the orison away and tell no one, or he’ll “cuss your fam’ly so diresome no babbit’ll live past one moon old now nor never!”
  • One time Zachry’s sister Catkin stepped on a scorpion fish and took deathly ill. Zachry demanded he heal her. Meronym said, “Why don’t you sivvy through my gear again an’ thief my spech Prescient Smart yourself?” But in the end she relents, despite her fears that “If my pres’dent ever finded out, my hole faculty’d be disbandied”. She gives Zachry a pill to give to his sister, very secretly, and she pulls through.
  • After that, Meronym proposes to climb Mauna Kea just like Truman Napes, and Zachry surprises everyone, himself included, by settling to go with her. He owned Meronym for Catkin. On the trek, he asks Meronym about conditions beyond Hawaii, and she says it’s awful lornsome. “I vow it, there ain’t more’n sev’ral places in Hole World what god the Smart o’ the Nine Valleys…Old Uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an’ made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o’ humans, yay, a hunger for more.”
  • When they reached the top, they found not temples but “observ’trees what Old’uns used to study the planets’n’moons’n’stars”. Meronym recorded the interior with her orison, which transmitted the images to Precience Island. When Zachry asks about the girl he saw, Meronym reluctantly tells him that she was Sonmi, the one he worships, who was a girl from Korea with a “short’n’judased life” and “only after she’d died did she find say-so over purebloods’n’freakbirth’s thinkin’s”.
  • After that shocking revelation Zachry is plagued by many doubts, and tempted by Old Georgie to kill her. When Meronym was descending by rope, it slipped in his hands, burning them, and he remembered his first augur from Sonmi Hands are burning, let that rope not be cut.” So Zachry defies Old Georgie and refuses to let Meronyn fall to her death.
  • After Zachry and Meronym returned alive from Mauna Kea, it was time for the Honokaa Barter, the biggest gathering of Windward peoples every year, where everyone trades up for what they need. And this year it was raided by warriors from the Kona coast, who rounded up everyone in the Valleymen’s store to be slaves, including Zachry, but Meronym escaped because she was sketching the sea from the town walls. Zachry was most worried for his sister Catkin, who was pretty, and what the Kona would do to her. The Kona took the Prescient boots that Meronym gave to Zachry for their hike. “No more scavvin’ up Mauna Kea for Zachry Goatboy.”
  • That night while the Kona was raping a boy the warriors began dropping one by one as a helmeted and caped Kona strode around bearing something that looked like a shinbone that could cut and pierce with red light. The Kona chief managed to retrieve the weapon with a well-aimed bullwhip, but he pointed the shinbone thing the wrong way and took off his own head. The mystery Kona plucked off his helmet and it was Meronym. “I’m too old for this.”
  • In the morning Meronym spoke through her orison to the Prescient who caught Zachry going through her gear one time. His name was Duophysite, and he asked Zachry to take Meronym to Ikat’s Finger, a spit of land that pointed north from Big Island. He said the orisons on Prescience haven’t answered for days and days, and it might be due to a plague that was coming from “Ank’ridge”, a “terrorsome sick what our Smart can’t cure. Jus’ one in two hundred what catch this plague s’vive it, yay.” The ship probably isn’t coming back. There’s only five Precients left on “Hole Ha-Why”.
  • Meronym had been part of a project by the Prescients to “find good earth to plant more Civ’lize” and they didn’t want to scare the islandsmen with big numbers. Zachry said if Precients were like Meronym, five thousand would have been welcomed in the Valleys. A fried of the Abbess, the chief of the tribe on Maui, was sending two kayaks for Meronym across the strait in two days, and Zachry agreed to bring Meronyn to them.
  • Meronym and Zachry found thirty or forty slaved Valleysmen being slaved by the Kona and backtracked to higher ground. When they reached Zachry’s village, the place was empty, everything that remained was strewn about. Meronym offered Zachry the choice to flee with her to Maui, but he wanted to take vengeance first.
  • Zachry went to the shrine to get his family’s icons, and found a young Kona asleep in there “skankin’ deep on Mormon Valley blissweed”. His enemy was helpless, but Zachry remembered his second aurgur, “Enemy’s sleeping, let his throat not be cut.” Zachry believed in reincarnation, and thought if he had been birthed a Kona in this life, he would be killing himself. But he killed the youth anyway, thinking ‘in our busted world the right thing ain’t always possible’.
  • At night, Meronym and Zachry speak about souls. She doesn’t believe they exist. Zachry said souls cross the skies of time, and Sonmi’s the map. Meronym says that savages aren’t stronger than Civ’lized, but large numbers are stronger than small numbers. “Smart gived us a plus for many years, like my shooter gived me a plus back at Slopin’ Pond” but with enough hands and minds that plus is neutralized. She says the savages and civilized aren’t divided into tribes, but each human being has both. “Ol’uns got the Smart o’ gods, but the savagery o’ jackals an’ that’s what tripped the Fall.” Even some of the Kona might have a “beautsome Civ’lized heart beatin’ in their ribs”.
  • The next day, Meronym and Zachry run into a Kona platoon. Meronym is wearing the Kona costume she wore when she shot the five the other day, but they want to know why a “Valleysboy’s ass was smearin’ a good Kona horse”. Meronym launches into a fierce tirade, pretending to be a general. This gives them just enough time for Meronym and Zachry to bolt away, aided by her shooter, but they soon have the entire platoon on their track.
  • Zachry is hit in the leg with a crossbolt. The Pololu bridge is ahead, shining bright in the sunset. Zachry remembers his third and last augur, “Bronze is burnin’, let that bridge not be crossed”. He tells her they shouldn’t cross it because Sonmi said so. Meronym chooses to believe him, so they cross the river by fording it. Eight galloping Kona horses and men are too much for the bridge, and it collapses. The platoon chasing Zachry and Meronym let them go and try to save their own fallen men.
  • At Ikat’s finger, Meronym removes the bolt from Zachry’s leg, and the pain makes him delirious. She makes the choice for him, and they both go by kayak to Maui. I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yah, only the atlas o’ clouds.
  • This entire tale was told by the son of Zachry, who certified the truth of it by pulling out the orison, which would show the ghost-image of Sonmi who “speaks in an Old-Un tongue what no un alive und’stands and nor never will, nay” if you warmed it in your hands. “Sit down a beat or two. Hold out your hands. Look.”


William Gibson – The Peripheral (Synopsis, Chapters 1-13)


1 – THE HAPTICS – Burton, a US Marine veteran on disability, lives in a trailer in a rural area and telecommutes to a sideline job beta testing an online game, earning twenty-five thousand dollars per session.  He talks his sister Flynne into substituting for him for one night.

2 – DEATH COOKIE – A celebrity named Deidre West has violated a verbal agreement with her publicist and gotten a tattoo, which she intends to display to the patchers when she parafoils in naked, which Rainey (complaining to Wilf Netherton) says would be worse than wearing a cock ring to meet the Pope. Rainey wants Wilf to talk Deidre into wearing a jumpsuit they are printing on the moby.  Rainey also mentions that Deidre has altered herself to become a “death cookie”, anyone who so much as steals a kiss goes into shock.  If the patchers decide to eat her, they will die.

3 – PUSHING BUGS – Burton has departed to mess with a religious group called Luke 4:5 that doesn’t like gay people and who picket military funerals.  Flynne is relieved that her brother didn’t take his hatchet.   She logs in to her phone with Burton’s password and his holographic display launches her into the game.

4 – SOMETHING SO DEEPLY EARNED – Rainey’s cameraman Lorenzo finds Deidre on the moby and Wilf Netherton puts through a call to her  by literally taking possession of Lorenzo.  Wilf mentions how a certain Annie, a young neoprimitist curator, had perceived a maturation of Deidre as an artist, and how she would consider the entrance she is planning to be a retrograde impulse.  The lie has its effect on Deidre, and Rainey expresses her satisfaction.

5 – DRAGONFLIES – In the game, Flynne is trying to keep paparazzi drones away from a window on the fifty-sixth floor of a building where two lovers can be seen.  Burton calls to check in, his sister says it feels more like working security than playing a game.  He says just keep the cams back.

6 – PATCHERS – About a hundred patchers live in their floating city, made from recycled plastic in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Wilf hates everything about it.  A white china Michikoid prepares Deidre for the drop while the first of twelve patchers approaches the appointed place riding a bicycle with no pedals.

7 – SURVEILLANT – While Flynne chases the camera bugs away, she catches glimpses of what’s happening in the window.  A beige blur, almost too fast to see, were robots vacuuming the floor.  Three anime robot girls set a table, preparing sushi.  A woman in a dress appears, not boy game hot, Flynne notes, but more real. Flynne is kept busy keeping the papparazi drones away from the window, earning her keep.

8 – DOUBLE DICKAGE – Deidre West dives over the railing of the moby and parafoils down to the patcher’s floating city.  When she arrives, she tries to unzip her jumpsuit but the zipper jams, a flaw deliberately introduced by the 3D printer that made it.  The boss patcher picks Deidre up into the air and tries to impale her on one of his two enormous penises, but Deidre defends herself with a blade that emerges from her thumbnail and grows to as long as her forearm inside the abdomen of the patcher.  Six white pods arrive from the air, accompanied by a hypersonic boom, and hover in a circle around Deidre, shredding the rest of the patchers in the square.

9 – PROTECTIVE CUSTODY – Flynne finishes her shift beta testing the game for Burton.  Leon calls, says Burton has been locked up by “Homes” (Homeland Security) for assaulting a member of Luke 4:5.  Burton wants Flynne to keep doing the job, says he’ll kick in an extra five thousand every other night.  Flynne wants the extra five every night, and not that Homes has Burton’s phone she’s worried they might find out about her own phone, which was printed only the previous week.

10 – THE MAENAD’S CRUSH – Rainey, in Canada, meets Wilf in a small London bar by renting a peripheral”, an android, but the only one she could get on short notice was a ten year old child.  They discuss the shit currently hitting multiple fans, and Rainey speculates that they were roped into being part of an assassination on the boss patcher.  Most of their partners have left, leaving only the US and a faction of the New Zealand government.  Wilf thinks he can fix it.

11 – TARANTULA – Flynne uses one of the five thousand dollar bills Burton gave her to get two bags of groceries, and the other to get medicine for her mother.  Shaylene at Forever Fab got Edward to sub for Flynne after she took Burton’s job on short notice.  Flynne likes Shaylene but doesn’t like how she takes his failure to ask her out as his chief sympton of PTSD.

12 – THYLACINE – Flashback: Wilf recalls telling Deidre West about how his friend Lev Zubov hired people from the past.  He called them “polts”, short for poltergeists, ghosts who move thing, and Wilf offered the services of one as an unusual gift.   Deidre in turn gave the polt to her sister Aelita to be part of her security.  Wilf wants Lev to fire the polt, end it, but Lev refuses, says Aelita finds it interesting.

13 – EASY ICE – Flynne works the game for a second night, but things are a little different.  There’s no more paparazzi camera drones, but there’s a gray thing like a child’s backpack on the twenty-third floor outside of the building, crawing up the glass with sticky-footed somersaults.  She sees the same woman in the apartment, and this time she sees the man with her.  And Flynne remembers the last time she walked point for her lawyer patron, and how deeply she had immersed her ego into the game, even crying when she made the kill.   She suspects the same thing is happening to her again.



Cayce Pollard has a phobia of certain product brand labels that produces a physical reaction.  She only wears clothing with the labels carefully removed.  This phobia is not all down side, however, the book opens with Cayce in London on a five figure contract for the Blue Ant agency as a “coolhunter”.  After one glance at a new logo, she says it doesn’t “work”.  The Blue Ant people ask her to remain in London for a short time while they rework the logo.  Cayce realizes this process must have earned her an enemy in the person of one Dorotea Benedetti, the liaison with the designer.  Horrible little things begin to happen that could only be attributed to Dorotea, though Cayce can prove nothing.

In her down time, Cayce is involved in a small global community of enthusiasts who follow and discuss the “Footage”, which is dozens of extraordinary video files that appear at random places on the Web, each one no longer than a minute, with no coherent narrative.  The founder of Blue Ant has also heard of the Footage, he considers it a brilliant breakthrough in guerilla marketing and wants Cayce to help him find the maker of the film fragments.  He makes nearly unlimited resources available to aid Cayce in her search, but it is her friends in the chat room, especially “Parkaboy”, who get the first lead.  They have discovered that the Footage is watermarked with steganography, obviously to track where the files go on the web.  And a footage-head named Taki in Tokyo claims to have extracted an encrypted number from one of the files, in a bid to impress “Keiko”, a completely fictional female persona created by Darrell in San Francisco.   Now that they have caught Taki, they need to reel him in. To do this, Parkaboy and Darrell enlist a Japanese-American bartender named Judy to create a semi-pornographic image of Taki’s dream girl, and Cayce flies to Japan with the image to make the trade.

Taki has no social skills whatsoever, and the meeting with Cayce makes him nervous almost to the point of death, but he offers up the twelve digits, and Cayce hands over the “Keiko” image, but the deal makes her feel sad and ashamed.  Cayce goes into the ladies’ room, writes the number on her hand, and when she comes back out, Taki is gone.  Stepping outside the bar, she is accosted by two men dressed in black.  Cayce pulls the face of one man into her skull, a move that very nearly kills him, and stomps on the foot of the other man.  A retainer for Blue Ant named Boone Chu pulls up in a scooter to help her get away.  In an alley they give their jackets to a pair of Yakuza toughs on another scooter, who circle back to where they came from to provide a diversion so Cayce can escape.

Parkaboy emails Cayce and says that the “psychosexual cruise missile that is Judy, tweaked, has found its mark”.  Taki has posted 135 twelve-digit numbers, one for each fragment of Footage, and the numbers create a map in the shape of the letter “T”.  The chatroom is abuzz. Meanwhile Judy has discovered what they have done to Taki and has taken pity on him.  She wants to make direct contact with Taki, and send more pictures, otherwise she’ll blow the whole operation.   Cayce encourages Parkaboy to let Judy have her way, and is actually glad someone else is pissed off about what happened to Taki.   But Cayce has discovered something big closer to home, the man she messed up in Tokyo is the driver for Dorotea, and worse, Dorotea now works for Bigend.  Cayce is angry enough to nearly quit, but Bigend manages to calm her down until Dorotea makes her confession.  She was working for a Russian who had burglarized the office of Cayce’s shrink, obtaining sufficient information for Dorotea to attempt to make Cayce uncomfortable enough to refuse the job with Blue Ant.  The two goons in Tokyo worked for this Russian too.  Someone thinks Cayce is getting too close.

Through her contacts in London, Cayce learns about one Hobbs Baranov, a mathematician formerly employed by the NSA who, it is suggested, was instrumental in the creation of the Echelon system that monitors all Internet traffic, but now, in his retirement, lives in a little trailer and deals in rare mechanical calculators manufactured in the 1940s.  He is a singularly unpleasant man who is even more sore lately, having lost an auction for the fourth such calculator ever made.  Cayce proposes to buy the calculator with Bigend’s credit card, but only if he can use his connections to discover what email address a certain company sends the video files after they encrypt the numbers.  She leaves a photo of the T-shaped map on the table with the 135 numbers.

In a surprisingly short period of time, Baranov obtains the email address, and Cayce makes the trade.  She writes an emotional appeal to the creator of the footage, mentioning the loss of her father in the WTC bombing,  letting the artist know how important the film fragments have become to her and many other people.  She writes that Parkaboy thinks the creator is dreaming for them. Cayce says her search has become a scary adventure, and begs to know who they are, where they are, and if they are real.  She has made the connection.  The reply says they have lost their father by a bomb, mother too.  They mention they are in Moscow.  They ask how Cayce obtained the address.  And they ask who are these people who are interested in the segments of the work.

Cayce is excited and embarks on a flight to Moscow.  Parkaboy emails her and reveals that the proportions of the “T” matches a component of a US Army Claymore mine.  Cayce puts him in touch with Blue Ant so he can fly to Moscow too, she says she needs him there with her, because she may be very close to learning everything.  She gives him the mystery email address because at that point only Cayce had it.  In Moscow, Cayce is contacted by the owner of the email address, Stella Volkova, and they meet for coffee.  She is not the maker of the footage, but the sister of the maker, who is Nora.  Stella is, however, the one who share’s Nora’s work with the world.  The same bomb that killed their parents also hurt Nora very badly.  They are protected by the security apparat of their uncle, a very rich man in the world of organized crime, but when Cayce spoke of how her father died on 9-11 she believed that Cayce would not hurt them.

The  next day Stella takes Cayce to visit Nora and watch her work.  There is a T-shaped fragment of a Claymore mine buried in her head, in a place where it would kill her if anyone tried to remove it.  Nora is almost completely isolated, and lives solely through her work.  For three hours Cayce watches the outline of the next segment of footage being created on an LCD screen, frame-by-frame.  Cayce knows she has found the source of her digital Nile and she leaves in tears.

Before Cayce can check out of her hotel she is accosted by Dorotea, who steers her to a bar and orders Perrier water.  Dorotea says she knows Cayce found the maker, and she says Volkov’s people know too, the people who employ her.   Soon Andrei Volkov will know, and will consider Cayce a danger because she has met his neices.  Dorotea wants to know how Cayce got the email address.  She reveals that she  is Mama Anarchia, her nemesis on the footage chatroom, and she’s been on to Cayce ever since the day Cayce speculated the makers might be associated with the Russian mob.   The water Cayce has been drinking is loaded with something similar to a date-rape drug.  Dorotea expects that Cayce will now be compliant and reveal the source of the email address.   But Cayce has a paradoxical reaction to the drug and messes Dorotea up at least as badly as the mugger in Tokyo, though she will not remember any of it.

She wakes up two days later in something that resembles a hospital, or a prison, in the middle of a barren wasteland, and simply walks out until it grows dark and cold.  She is found with night-vision goggles by a helicopter pilot and met by Parkaboy, who says he emailed Stella after they hauled Cayce away on a gurney and told her what happened, and that he was a friend.  Thirty minutes later he was rushed through Moscow to some very high-end real estate to meet Stella, her uncle, Bigend, and the Chinese hacker, Boone Chu, who had hacked her hotmail.

The helicopter takes Parkaboy and Cayce back to the “prison” which Parkaboy reveals is the CGI render farm for the Footage. Bigend is glad Peter found her and relieved that Cayce is well.  Bigend and Andrei Volkov, the wealthiest man in Russia, have become partners, if not friends.   Andrei had been obsessed with protecting his neices, and the mechanism he put in place for that did not mesh entirely with Stella’s desire to make Nora’s work public, and all of Cayce’s recent troubles stemmed from that.  The software they used to track the footage flagged Blue Ant’s interest in the Footage, and that’s why Dorotea was ordered to disrupt Cayce’s relationship with Bigend.  Cayce is pressed by Bigend and Andrei’s security chief on how she got the email address and she answers in such a way that both conclude it was a friend of her father’s with access to Eschelon.

Later, Cayce and Parkaboy have become a couple, and Cayce has discovered that she no longer has her allergy to trademarks, perhaps a side effect of the drug Dorotea gave her.  She wonders if it also means her work as a coolhunter is impossible. Judy Tsuzuki has flown to Tokyo to be with Taki and at the bidding of Cayce she is employed by Blue Ant there.    Cayce has sent some money and information provided by Volkov’s group that will allow her mother to have Win Pollard declared legally dead, which will clear the way for the life insurance and the pension money to come through.


Wormwood Scrubs, London, setting for the denouement of Zero History.

Zero History – (2010, William Gibson). Hollis Henry, lead singer for the now defunct alt.rock band The Curfew, and a former drug addict and Columbia-educated linguist named Milgrim find themselves in London working for advertising magnate Hubertus Bigend, unaware that their lives previously crossed in Spook Country.

One of Bigend’s current interests is fashion, particularly the intersection between street wear, work wear and military clothing. Milgrim is sent to South Carolina to take photographs of a pair of Army BDUs where he gains the notice of a federal agent named Winnie Tung Whittaker employed by DCIS. Winnie photographs Milgrim and intimidates him into working as an informant.

Bigend asks Henry and Milgrim to investigate a secret brand of clothing named Gabriel Hounds after an obscure English legend. At the same time, he becomes aware that a coup is being plotted within his company, Blue Ant. When Milgrim realizes his cell phone is being tracked by rogue elements in Blue Ant, he slips the phone into a pram belonging to the moll of a member of the Russian mob, which leads to one of the mercenaries involved in the coup, who followed the pram, being captured and beaten. Revenge against Milgrim then becomes the top priority of the mercs.

A parallel subplot follows Hollis as she tracks down the Gabriel Hounds designer, strongly implied but not expressly stated to be Cayce Pollard, the protagonist of Pattern Recognition. Joined by her boyfriend Garreth, the mysterious daredevil featured in Spook Country who had been severely injured in a BASE jump, Hollis Henry offers to help Bigend gain the release of Bobby Chombo, who has been captured by the mercenaries to force Bigend to swap him for Milgrim, but as part of the deal, Bigend must allow the Hounds designer to remain anonymous. Bobby Chombo is absolutely critical to Bigend’s plan to gain the ability to foresee stock market prices by a number of minutes. Events reach a climax at night in an open space in London named Wormwood Scrubs where the mercs demand the prisoner exchange to take place.

Zero History concludes a trilogy of contemporary novels written by Gibson using what he calls his speculative-fiction “toolkit”, making them just as enjoyable from a literary standpoint as Neuromancer or Idoru (Gibson’s descriptive prose and plotting is unassailable) while totally immune from being overtaken by real world technology and events.   That these books are just as bewildering as his previous two trilogies set much further up the timeline says very much about the times we live in, a world of constant future shock. Fact has become stranger than science fiction.


Here’s a book that will keep you up at night.

Quantico by Greg Bear was first published in 2005 but has been updated every year since then to capture the latest changes in technology as we spin headlong into the scary world of the decade depicted in the thriller…this decade, the Terrible Teens, the one in which we are well eml_quantico_usbarked. There has been another 9-11 scale terrorist attack on the United States, this time on October 4, an attack on a Washington State ferry carried out after the destruction of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem by a Jewish bomber.

“…9-11, call the cops, 10-4, over and out…”

A new alphabet soup of agencies have sprung up, including the Bureau of Domestic Intelligence and the mysterious BuDark. It is a time when news of the the capture of the 2001 Amerithrax perpetrator is overshadowed the next day by a nuclear detonation, the first once since Nagasaki, in the Iranian Tactical Area of Responsibility.

“That was a nuke. A couple hundred klicks away but definitely a nuke. This chopper is hardened but ITAR rules say we land after any strike”. . . The fanatics have won, and it is Islam against the West, and the West…that is me, my people now, must bathe the Middle East in a sea of flame. Like a lion stung too many times, ripping up a nest, killing all the silly, stupid hornets…

In post 10-4 America homegrown bio-hackers create real viruses, not computer ones, while Sunni factions in Iraq test the results on captured Jews and Shiites. Genes are spliced into yeast to create airborne mad cow disease, and dispersed by ordinary fireworks from the back of a truck. Specific trucks are taken out in Mecca during the Hajj by steel telephone poles dropped from orbit, guided by lasers, to drive them into holes and vaporize them before they can release their deadly cargo. Israel starts assassinating the extended families of suicide bombers, but still they come.

While the House of Saud is overthrown by a US backed coalition of Arabs in a “controlled burn” revolution, hoping to keep the oil flowing, liberals in Congress, backed by Madam President and incensed by the discovery of “patriot files” on them systematically dismantle the FBI even as the final class of agents undergo training at the FBI Academy on the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.

Mariposa is the missing link that ties Quantico (2005) together with Queen of Angels (1990, set in 2047), “/” (also known as Slant; 1997 but set in 2055), Heads (1990) and Moving Mars into a single unified future history.   As both a sequel to Quantico and a prequel to Queen of Angels, the novel features characters from both earlier works.

Set in 2021 America, whose government is more than fifty trillion dollars in debt, the novel follows an FBI investigation of the Talos Corporation (a thinly-disguised Blackwater) which plans to disable the power grid across the entire Eastern seaboard in a simultaneous, coordinated attack of domestic terrorism, which will trigger the provisions of a law Congress passed authorizing Federal lands and resources as collateral to continue borrowing funds from overseas.

Unexpected help comes from a secret weapon in the Federal arsenal, non-nuclear EMP, as well as a mute Mind Design proto-AI named Jones, (early precursor to Jill, the artificial intelligence who first awaken in Queen of Angels and figures prominently in Slant).  Jones has a back door into Talos.  Meanwhile Green Idaho has seceded from the Union. Mary Choi, the protagonist of later novels appears as an orphan of age two. President Raphkind comes to power, beginning an administration that is still reviled when Mary Choi is a cop nearly thirty years later.




Fifty years after the Second Seldon Crisis, the Foundation has built an economic and political hegemon far beyond the original Four Kingdoms, extending across hundreds of systems in the galactic rim.  The emissaries of this network are the Traders, solitaryimg4 figures who spend months or years away from Terminus in their ramshackle spacecraft bringing the  marvels of the Foundation to worlds which have slipped back into a pre-technological barbarism.

But one world, Askone, has a religious proscription against technology, perhaps in backlash to the general decline of human civilization in the galaxy.  Askone has proven resistant to the blandishments of the traders, and now has placed one such trader, Eskel Gorov, who is also a secret agent of the Foundation, under arrest.   Limmar Ponyets is sent in to get him free.

To the Grand Master, Ponyets pleads that Gorov has wandered into the Askone system unwittingly as a deplorable mistake, and when this is met with disbelief Ponyets assures him that the attempt to trade was made contrary to the strictest regulations of the Guild.  The Grand Master assures him in turn that the indiscretion is likely to cost Gorov his life.

When Ponyets begs him to consider an alternative, the Grand Master tentatively says, “I have heard that the Foundation is rich.”   Ponyets admits that this is true, but the riches are technological, of a character that Askone refuses to accept.  And when Ponyets asks to be allowed to speak to Gorov, this is refused, until Ponyets appeals to religion.  “Even now he faces the prospect of going unprepared to the bosom of the Spirit that rules all.”

This changes everything. When Ponyets affirms that he is a Tender of the Soul, the Grand Master says, “Every man should prepare his soul for the journey to his ancestral spirits. Yet I had never thought you traders to be believers.”

Gorov knows Ponyets.  They speak together in the cell, but Ponyets has brought a Field Distorter in the shape of a bracelet that confounds any listening devices.   Gorov tells him that nothing will happen as long as the Grand Master has the scent of gold in his nose. He suggests that Ponyets return to the Foundation to get some, and return to set him free. Ponyets has a better idea.

In a demonstration before the Grand Master and a man named Pherl who was the sovereign’s favorite, Ponyets demonstrated the operation of a device he constructed himself.  “It is nuclear in nature, but none of you need touch it.  If it contains abominations, I take the foulness of it upon myself.”

The Grand Master raised his cain in a threatening guesture and mouthed a purifying invocation against it.   Ponyets said, “With this machine, I can turn the iron you discard into gold of the finest quality.”

The Grand Master scoffed that many fools had claimed the ability to transmute metals.   “Success at producing gold would have been a crime that carried its own antidote,” he said.  “It is the attempt plus the failure that is fatal.”  And he asked Ponyets to see what he could do with his iron staff.    But the staff is too long, so a courtier’s buckles are used instead.

Ten minutes later, the buckles were gold.  Ponyets offered a large quantity of gold made by this machine in exchange for Gorov’s freedom.  Pherl objected, saying, “Your Veneration, to accept this pseudo-gold made sinfully from iron in your presence is an affront to the living spirits of our holy ancestors.”

Ponyets objected in turn, saying, “To give up a heathen is to lose nothing for your ancestors, whereas the gold you get in exchange can ornament the shrines of their holy spirits.  And were the gold evil in itself, surely the evil would depart of necessity once the metal were put to such pious use.”

The Grand Master is inclined to accept Ponyets argument.  And the trader sweetened the deal, offering to put the gold in hostage for thirty days.  If at the end of that time no disasters occur, he argued, surely it would mean the offering was accepted by the holy ancestors. Even Pherl had to agree to this.

A week later, Ponyets is taken to meet Pherl at his own villa, where Pherl mentions that it did not escape his notice that the demonstration seemed to be targeted at himself more than the Grand Master.  He asks Ponyets what is the underlying motive of his clumsy move.

Ponyets answers that he has observed that Pherl is young and that it is said he is not a member of the Five Tribes.  And further, that he has heard it said that the nation will not be willing to see any man outside of the Tribes as Grand Master, and one so young and well positioned as Pherl seems to be must have powerful enemies among the great ones of the State.  The Grand Master is aging and his protection of Pherl cannot last past his death.

To remedy this, Ponyets offers to sell Pherl the machine that produces gold, the very one that he witnessed perform during the demonstration, in return for the equivalent value of a cubic foot of gold in wrought iron.  Then Pherl’s supply of gold will equal his supply of iron, sufficient to obtain the Grand Mastership at least, despite youth and enemies.  And Pherl can use it in absolute secrecy, in his deepest dungeon, for the gold bears no trace of its artificial manufacture.  Ponyets further states that Pherl himself can be the one to operate the device, he can teach him to do so in a mere five minutes.  They strike a bargain.

Gorov was released on the 30th day, and five hundred pounds of gold took his place. Gorov’s ship was returned to him, and both him and Ponyets were ushered away from Askone, except that it was Pherl’s private navy, and not the Askonian fleet, that was doing the ushering.   They were being taken to Pherl’s mining estates to load up on tin, both  of them.

Pherl had never heard of, nor conceived, of a microfilm recorder.  Ponyets incorporated one in the device, and when he removed it for the next day’s overhaul, he had a perfect record of Pherl operating the device and crowing over his first piece of gold as if it were an egg he had just laid.  When Ponyets showed him the results, and suggested there was a projector set up in the city square set to go off at noon for a million fanatical Askonians to watch, and subsequently tear Pherl to pieces, Pherl was immediately ready to make a deal.

Ponyets admits to Gorov he didn’t really have a projector set up in the city square, but it doesn’t matter now, Pherl traded all the gadgets in both Ponyets and Gorov’s ships in return for all the tin they could carry.  And Ponyets speculates that Pherl will not only use the gadgets, after he buys the election with the gold he’s making  he’ll even sell the devices, it’s the only way he can recoup his losses and his pride.  And at the same time he will become the best man the Foundation could have in its favor on Askone.

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